Thursday, May 2, 2013

Ontario budget sees 2013-14 deficit of C$11.7 billion

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario's minority Liberal government unveiled a budget on Thursday that projected a narrower-than-expected 2013-14 deficit and included measures meant to secure opposition support and prevent an early election for Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Canada's most populous province, which accounts for about 40 percent of the country's economy, will run a budget shortfall of C$11.7 billion ($11.60 billion) in 2013-14 under the budget plan unveiled by Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who succeeded Dwight Duncan in February.

The deficit is below the government's year-ago forecast of C$12.8 billion, but above its 2012-13 shortfall of C$9.8 billion.

New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath, whose support is needed to pass the budget and prop up Wynne's government, said she would consult with her party members before deciding what to do.

"This budget clearly reflects the budget proposal we put forward ... but what we want to make sure (voters) get those results," she told reporters.

With just 51 seats in the 107-seat Ontario legislature, Wynne's Liberals need NDP support to pass the budget. The right leaning Progressive Conservatives, who hold the second-most seats, will not support the document, leader Tim Hudak said.

Wynne, whose party saw its popularity jump when she took over from longtime Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in January, has since watched poll numbers move in favor of the PCs, as her government has struggled with the fallout of a power generation spending scandal.

The PCs currently enjoy 36 percent support, followed by 33 percent for the Liberals and 26 percent for the NDP, according to an aggregation of recent polls published in the Globe & Mail newspaper on Tuesday.

As such, the budget featured more than a little input from NDP leader Horwath in certain areas, most notably a pledge to cut auto insurance premiums by 15 percent, as well as a C$295 million youth job creation program.

"We recognize that we're in a minority situation and we need to work with all sides of the house," Sousa told reporters.

The auto insurance reduction follows a ballooning in premiums in recent years, which insurers have blamed on rising claims and fraud-related costs.

Sousa said he has been in touch with insurance companies - Ontario's largest publicly-traded auto insurer is Intact Financial - and would hope to see rates start to come down within a year.

($1 = $1.0084 Canadian)

(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Nick Zieminski)


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